Writer: Level 1
The page is blank, metaphorically speaking. After all, I’m a millennial and would never write anything if I had to contend with the hand cramps that come from actually putting pen to paper. But I also don’t have to write anything. I’ve finished my degree. There are no more deadlines, no more writing exercises or peers to review. It’s freeing, and strange. I’ve realised how much I liked the structure. How much I needed it. While my calendar is full of children’s end of year activities, Christmas shopping and the endless monotony of domestic life, the hundreds of job applications, the only things I have been writing just aren’t hitting the spot. It makes me think. What’s next?
Most of my lecturers told us to make writing a habit; set a time and make sure you write something, regardless of how good or bad it is. I haven’t managed that yet. Mornings are too hard, and while evenings used to be for study, they’re now spent glued to a screen. I tell myself I’m researching different ways of storytelling, but hours spent fighting that one spider in The Witcher III don’t exactly further the narrative. After three days I realised I was fighting a beast way beyond my level 7 capabilities and ran away like a hero. I was expecting too much of myself and setting myself up for failure.
The thing is my life didn’t really change because of the arbitrary date on the calendar marking the end of semester. My kids still went to school, and the plethora of after school activities they’re enrolled in. The mortgage payment still goes out every Thursday and the bills keep rolling in, yet I’m in this weird space of having no purpose. Until I get a job, I’m stuck. I can’t make plans or set a new routine, and it turns out I need routine. Every night, before bed, I go over all the to-do lists I’ve written, trying to clear my mind of clutter. The top item on each list is “set a writing schedule”, and I immediately feel guilty. How can I call myself a writer if I’m not writing?
I don’t even know what I would write about. So far all of my motivation has been external; an assignment deadline, complete with guidelines on content, word count and style. Sure, some were more prescriptive than others, but there was still the basic premise of it being an assessment destined only to be read by people paid to be constructive, or by classmates who wouldn’t dare laugh for fear of backlash on their own work. I mined my memories for content in that safe space and now I’m not sure there’s much left to tell. Student life, especially as a single mother, doesn’t exactly provide the opportunity for adventure. I need to get out more. I add that to my lists.
Then the school holidays hit, and the façade I’d built of a girl getting her shit together came crashing down around me. Time lost meaning, the days blurred into each other. OK, I’m being dramatic, but only a little. Any hope I had of opening my laptop was chased away when I caught my 7-year-old hosing down his younger brother. For the second time. I resigned to the fact that writing can’t be my top priority yet. It felt like a cop-out, and maybe it was, but I had to save my sanity somehow. Pre-Christmas children are a whole other phenomenon requiring extra patience and mental fortitude. Maybe that could be my next topic to work through, or evidence of just how necessary the pause is.
If I’ve learnt anything from video games, it’s that you have to spend some time levelling up before tackling the beast, exploring the world and how best to navigate it. I think that’s where I’m at. My degree was the tutorial, setting me up for the real hard work, but I’m not ready to fight the spider yet. But I don’t have to either; I can find smaller battles to get me started and practise my craft, and I don’t need to feel guilty for not having a stellar writing schedule yet. I’ve decided to write what I can, when I can, even if that means doing the cheesy exercises in the creativity notebooks Santa bought me. I need to focus on my kids and go on adventures. We’ll spend summer at the beach and I’m sure the sun and the surf and the slightly sour smell of the ocean will provide plenty of material to mine later. Eventually I’ll start working, school will go back, and some semblance of normal will return. When it does my keyboard will be waiting. One day, the stolen moments scribbling on whatever paper is near will become a more concrete habit that will somehow fit seamlessly into the chaos of life. I don’t need to feel guilty about taking a break, at least not yet. If I haven’t ticked it off my list this time next year… well, then I’ll have a problem.